Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ecstasis and Telos: Thomas Hobbes and His Monsters

THE MAN WHO THOUGHT he could square a circle, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is the man who gave birth to our modern materialist political philosophies. Although Hobbes ventured into many areas, including optics and geometry, he is best known for his works on political philosophy and the philosophy of law. In order of increasing precedence, Hobbes's three most important works in this area would be The Elements of Law (1640), De Cive (On the Citizen) (1642), and Leviathan (1651). It is these works which earned him lasting acclaim, and it is these works that have resulted in Hobbes being considered to be the founding father of modern political philosophy.

Hobbes may be characterized as a systematic Machiavellian. If Machiavelli skirmished against the prevalent notion of political philosophy based upon the Natural Law, Hobbes marshaled all his intellectual troops (in a vast misuse of talent, for God had endowed him well) in a sustained, brilliant, and systematic war against it. Hobbes entire theory of political philosophy "amounts at bottom to a denial of the natural law." Rommen, 73. Machiavelli and Hobbes, that "gloomy fellow traveler of Epicurus," were driven by the same dark, cynical materialistic spirit where hedonism seizes the day. There is no notion of the law as love in those men.

Without love it follows there is not to be found anything authentically human in the whole of their theories. Indeed, for Hobbes, the human heart was as if it were steel. "For what is the heart, but a spring?" Leviathan, intro. In Hobbes, there is no notion of man as spirit; man is machine. In fact, there is no such thing as spirit anywhere. "[E]very part of the universe is a body, and that which not body is no part of the universe. And because the universe is all, that which is no part of it is nothing (and consequently nowhere)." Leviathan, 46.11. Spirits, to the extent they exist, are "really bodies," as they have "dimensions," and so all is matter and there is nothing outside of it. Id.

It follows that since for Hobbes there is no spiritual world which maybe known, there is no supernatural world, nor even (as we know it) a God to refer to to establish a Natural Law, much less an Eternal Law. And the principles of morality, if they are to be found at all, are to be found by the observation of mechanistic nature. So Hobbes endeavored upon the quest to build a theory of morality upon the basis that the word was a "machine-body, a 'Leviathan.'" Levering, 93.

Man, which is machine, constructs an "artificial man," "that great LEVIATHAN called COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin CIVITAS)" on the same mechanical basis. Leviathian, intro. That State, Hobbes says, may be called the "mortall God," from whom there is no appeal. Indeed, "there is no law outside this 'Leviathan," and its laws may are the "will and appetite of the state." Levering, 94; Leviathan, 46.32. Law is passion coupled with power, the sinews and claws of a dragon, the lizardly body of a Great Beast. This Leviathan includes both the State and the Church, and so is frequently cartooned holding both the King's sword and a Bishop's crozier.

Hobbes worships this "mortall God," and asks us to do likewise, though it be but an image of his mind and a creature of man's hands. In a truly perverse way, Hobbes argues that God Almighty requires such worship. "The laws of God, are none but the laws of nature, whereof the principal is that we should not violate our faith, that is a commandment to obey or civil sovereigns." Leviathan, 43.5. What does this mean other than that in Hobbes's view, God's first request of us is to idolize the State?

The most uninformed Christian will known that the first principle of the natural law is to do good, and to avoid evil. He will know that God's principal commandment is to love Him, and his second is like unto it: we are to love our neighbor as our self. He will know that there is no place in Scripture where we are asked to worship Caesar. One can see how far Hobbes is from any Christian sentiment, much less the Christian faith.

What would justify being dissolved in the gastric juices of such monster? Why would men subject themselves to the beast "like wormes in the entrayles of a naturall man"? Hobbes argues that one is worse outside the monster, than in its belly. Outside Leviathan, one would be in a state of nature (status naturalis), where there would be no life in common, no art, no industry. Nothing but self-seizing as to others and self-defense as against others, a life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" lived in a state of constant war, "all against all," and all living in constant fear of violent a death. Leviathan, I.13. Outside Leviathan homo homini lupus, "Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe." De Cive; Leviathan. What sort of anthropology is that? Besides this, even Calvin seems an incorrigible optimist.

In Hobbes's view, confronted with his dismal prospects in the state of nature (status naturalis), individual men in the interests of self-preservation covenant together to form "articles of peace," a social compact by which men leave the state of nature and enter into the status civilis, hence forming the State. And through that State comes law. "The reckless rationalism" and individualism of Hobbes "found expression both here and his demand that in speculation one must start by viewing men as beings that have shot forth from the earth like mushrooms, as at once full-grown." Rommen, 75.

For Hobbes, law is found emanating from one place, the State. Laws are not based upon Nature, nor are they based upon Reason. They are based upon raw will. For this reason, Rommen calls Hobbes's legal doctrine "the theodicy of Occam secularized, and the extreme consequence of the proposition that law is will." Rommen, 76.

In his Biblical Natural Law, Levering concludes his discussion of Hobbes theory on law thus:
Their authority as 'laws' flows ultimately not from a teleological 'nature', or from an autonomous 'reason,' let along from divine providence, but from the actual exercise of power by a specific ruler of a specific commonwealth. Natural law has here moved clearly from the biblical self-giving ecstasis, rooted in the teleological dynamism toward communion inscribed by God, to self-asserting power.
Levering, 98.

Hobbes is profuse in the citation of Scripture. One ought not be misled by Hobbes's penchant for scriptural reference as any indication of a sincere belief in God. His doctrine was palpably inconsistent with any belief in God. He was, as Professor Jesseph concludes, "a sly, ironic, and interesting atheist," and not a "bizarre, confused, and ultimately incoherent Christian." Douglas M. Jesseph, Hobbes's Atheism, 26 Midwest Studies in Philosophy 140, 164 (2002). With good reason did Bishop Bishop John Bramhall (1594-1663) in his Catching of Leviathan characterize Hobbe's great work as a “Rebell's Catechism.” Were Hobbes right, the State would be nothing other than Satan's non serviam writ in law. If Hobbes were right, he would be wrong: the State would not be Leviathan a sea monster, but a serpent, that same serpent that reared himself in the Garden of Eden.

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